Revealing the Tangled Roots of Race, Religion, and Politics in US National Culture

Gerardo Marti, Ph.D., Sociology, Davidson College

I desire to shape a seminar that reveals critical—yet often misunderstood—dynamics implicit to our current national climate and its politics. Together, we would mutually explore macro-level dynamics of continuing relevance based not on opinion but on material that is analytical, historical, and empirically grounded in observable patterns. Current events will surely be referenced, yet our discussions will likely follow a loose chronological sequence: context for understanding the basis for racial and religious dynamics in what becomes known as “America”, assertions of “American” national identity, and religious factors of an economic system centered on the “market”

Potential topics include: formation of racial hierarchy with expansion of Europe into the Western Hemisphere in the 15th & 16th Century, racialized assumptions regarding indigenous and enslaved persons presumed by white settlers – including the framing of the American constitution – over the past 300+ years (whether encoded into official law or not); political movements profoundly motivated by racial and religious factors; comprehensive laws determining immigrant qualifications for becoming a “true” American; and personal and corporate patterns of financial inequality and elite wealth resulting in vast differences in investments and profitability. Our current moment is full of important happenings involving gender, sexuality, and racial identity. It is also likely that we would touch on long term shifts in political parties. Also interesting today are legal arguments and decisions by the Supreme Court, surprising correlations between racial designations and religious notions, and innovative mechanisms behind financial success and failure.

Although there is flexibility to follow interests of fellows in pursuing these topics, the starting points will likely consist of excerpted readings from scholarly secondary and/or archival primary courses, a few suggestions of other sources, and discussions, which are intended to stimulate the thinking and further resourcing of fellow’s for their own thinking and projects. 

My hope is that our learning community would stimulate many insightful and not-so-obvious considerations of race-ethnicity, religion, politics, and economics that will culminate in creating teaching units that successfully weave profound interrelations of distinct cultural currents shaping civic society today. Generally, our time together is intended to enhance each fellow’s teaching practices regarding complex societal issues by sensitizing and articulating dynamics that remain less understood and understudied as well as provide multiple launch points for constructing curricula relevant for different purposes and teaching levels.

Possible Secondary Sources (suggestive, not exhaustive):

1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half. Bown, Stephen R. Thomas Dunne Books. 2011.

Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763. Kamen, Henry. 2003.

Race, Empire, and the Idea of Human Development. McCarthy, Thomas. Cambridge. 2009.

Purchasing Whiteness: Pardos, Mulattos, and the Quest for Social Mobility in the Spanish Indies. Twinam, Ann. Stanford. 2015.

Empire of the People: Settler Colonialism and the Foundations of Modern Democratic Thought. Dahl, Adam. University of Kansas Press. 2018.

The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap. Baradaran, Mehrsa. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2017.

Heathen: Religion and Race in American History. Lum, Kathryn Gin. Harvard. 2022.

Welfare for the Wealthy: Parties, Social Spending, and Inequality in the United States. Faricy, Christopher G.. Cambridge. 2015.

Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. University of North Carolina Press. 2019.

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. Du Mez, Kristin Kobes. Liveright, 2020.

Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future. Shapiro. Thomas M.. Basic Books. 2017.

American Blindspot: Race, Class, Religion, and the Trump Presidency. Martí, Gerardo. Rowman & Littlefield. 2020.